A visitor lights a match before entering the resting place of the Rebbe and Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. (Photo: Eli Kahn)
A visitor lights a match before entering the resting place of the Rebbe and Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. (Photo: Eli Kahn)
Tens of thousands of people descended on Cambria Heights, N.Y., to pray at the resting places of the last two Chabad-Lubavitch leaders. Thursday marked the Hebrew anniversary of the 1950 passing of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, and the day exactly one year later that his son-in-law, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, formally accepted the leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

Worldwide, hundreds of thousands more studied the leaders' teachings in honor of the occasion.

As the sun began to rise over the Old Montefiore Cemetery, thousands studied Chasidic texts – including the first discourse delivered by the Rebbe on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat in 1951 – and prepared themselves for morning prayers. The resting place of the Rebbe and the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe just yards away was already filled to capacity as Chasidim sporting side-locks and fur hats stood side by side with Israelis wearing blue jeans and leather jackets.

Even with a recent expansion, the crush of visitors taxed the welcome center, according to Rabbi Abba Refson, who added that the complex is equipped to receive thousands of visitors 24 hours a day. Many make the location their first stop after landing at JFK International Airport, a 15-minute taxi ride away, and study footage of the Rebbe's talks throughout the years before making their way to the actual gravesite.

A group of visitors from Brazil, who came with their local Chabad-Lubavitch emissary, cradled Styrofoam cups of hot coffee as they rolled their small suitcases to a holding area in the visitors' tent, located behind a house bordering the cemetery. In broken English, they explained that they were not going to eat anything prior to engaging in serious learning in preparation for their visit to the resting place.

One local resident, Aliza, was holding a printout of information from Chabad.org as she fitted a pair of non-leather slippers provided for visitors.

"I am trying to get everything right," she said. "I just received an e-mail about today in Jewish History and decided to pay my respects to those that I have learned so much from."

As she hurried off to work moments after her first-ever visit to the holy site, she said that she was hoping to come back at another time.

Joining her in the mid-morning exodus of laborers and businesspeople to the street outside was Bruce Backman. Clad in a business suit, his tie hanging loosely from his collar, the FOX News employee arrived at 3:00 a.m. from his Manhattan apartment to learn some of the Rebbe's teachings and reflect on the important things in life.

"It offers me an opportunity to reevaluate my progress, my growth," he said before heading back to the city, "and make resolutions for further spiritual growth and improvement."